Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 22, 2010

Ah, How We Laughed

Got a call today from a longtime colleague with whom I’d not spoken for quite a while. Is there some part of the human psyche that lies dormant until a particular age and then wakes up, imposing upon us a penchant for nostalgia? Although he’s a little younger than I, we’ve both been at the company for a long time. Although we had serious business to do, some inchoate, unnameable force compelled us to discuss matters at the firm from 15 years ago.

The Fear: it’s one of those “markers;” the “old guy” markers. Chewing your food 100 times; using two spaces after periods because that’s how they did it in the manual typewriter days; or recalling the old days, when no one in particular brought UP the subject of the old days. No, I won’t surrender to the idea that this is a function of ANY age. I think nostalgia can occur at any time of life, because I ascribe it to human nature, pure and simple. People are naturally drawn toward things they have in common, and if even their work life dates back a decade or more, they’re more likely than not to have that as a common reference point: hence, a discussion about the old days. I mean, it’s not as if we FORGOT about what we were SUPPOSED to be doing. It got done. All in good time, my lad. 5th graders can wax nostalgia about their youth, when they were in 1st grade together. I know it for a fact.

The impulse towards nostalgia is one of the most easily mocked aspects of our human nature. Monty Python had a hilarious sketch in which old codgers attempt to outdo one another, recalling the direst aspects of their underprivileged childhoods. The topper was the man who claimed to have grown up in a puddle in a hole in the road. Certainly the blogosphere is generating millions of words per day that fall under the category of nostalgia, and one can be certain that there’s an endless source of satiric humor there!

People can probably be nostalgic about anything, given the opportunity. America is full of museums and memorials of the most unlikely sort, ranging from America’s Nostalgia Trip — the American Museum of History in Washington — down to little roadside attractions, like the museum The Counselor and I visited down in Deming in southern New Mexico. It occupied an old armory and contained the most eclectic collection of stuff imaginable, from old clothing, farm implements, guns and historic documents to local minerals and crystals. Somewhere in there, they may be preserving some minute slice of Mankind’s past that otherwise would slip unheeded beneath the waves of time, but it is difficult at this juncture to say which bit it might be.

Yes, there are museums full of old airplanes, railroad rolling stock, dental implements, automobiles, dolls, carousel horses, model trains: they’re everywhere. One of the wildest must be the Bunny Museum up in Pasadena,¬†though that probably goes somewhere beyond nostalgia.

But, even on nights like this, when every blog idea seems pale or stale, I’m determined not to surrender to The Memory Meme. Yes, sometimes I write about memories from the past, preferably when there’s some contemporary event or theme to give them context. Without some self-restraint, I could reel out day after day of unstructured low-grade autobiography that not even I care that much about. Then it WOULD be happening; I’d be that Ancient Blogger, glittering eye and all, who stoppeth one of three and starts unloading hoary old stories.

Given the right circumstances, we probably can be nostalgic about almost anything. How far could it go?

“Ah, the Land of the Pharaohs! Remember, Pnut? how we used to drag those stones over the sand, endless hours of toil, pulling on the ropes; no food; no water; only the whips of the overseers. 10,000 slaves died every day from hunger and thirst or fell crushed beneath the feet of other slaves. Ah, THOSE were the days!”

Nah, I like it now.

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